Usual seasonal stress risk factors such as unrealistic expectations, family conflict, loneliness, and overspending, are likely to be exacerbated by the continued impact of Covid-19. The end of year holiday period, generally characterised by an influx of social events, overeating and increased alcohol consumption, and financial strain, is now further influenced by our ‘Covid experience’; pandemic related restrictions and risks, and insecurity about what the next year may look like, will compound the usual feelings of stress, guilt and anxiety.
Organisational psychologist Dr Sarah Cotton from Transitioning Well agrees. “Called the silly season for a reason, seasonal stress is a real phenomenon and comes with the pressures we often place on others and ourselves, financially, emotionally and physically. On top of what is normally an already stressful time of year, Covid-19 has added additional stressors that we need to proactively support.”
Our bodies have a physiological response to stress, and exposure to long term chronic stress, experienced by many of us during 2020, can have an impact on our cognitive ability and behavioural patterns, pushing us into a ‘slump’ where we find it more difficult to maintain self-care and other productive habits. The ‘Covid experience’ is likely to be prolonged for many of us in areas where employment and social activities continue to be impacted by restrictions and health concerns. Covid-19 also limits our ability to plan for the holiday period in the way that we usually would, as there is a lack of certainty around whether travel and access to usual activities will be permitted across some regions, and significant cultural and family rituals can’t be recognised in the usual manner.
Employers are in a strong position to foster wellbeing in their staff, and by equipping their team with the skills and resources, a business can better navigate these additional challenges. Identifying common symptoms of seasonal stress such as lack of motivation and irritability gives organisations the opportunity to provide practical support to promote better mental health outcomes for workers across all levels of the business. Workers who are supported by their employer will generally have more tools at their disposal to create a healthier work-life balance, and therefore better able to manage work-life wellbeing. Those who feel valued will also maintain higher levels of productivity and be well equipped to manage stressors within the work environment.
While employers should always encourage workers to utilise EAP and other support programs that are available to them, targeted specialised support has been shown to be more effective in promoting mental health. Justine Alter from Transitioning Well works with a number of organisations at this time of the year, assisting them to better support their staff, and she believes that this year, more than ever, it is important to turn to proven strategies that are tailored for the individual business needs. Indeed, AHRI and the Wellbeing Lab found that amongst a range of wellbeing initiatives it has been wellbeing coaching and wellbeing workshops that have made the most significant difference in helping people to thrive and be well.
It is increasingly important that employers emphasise the importance of self-care in the lead up to the holiday season, encouraging workers to share their experiences, and develop strategies to manage feelings of stress and anxiety. Businesses must recognise that while the physical risks of Covid-19 are very much apparent, prolonged exposure to uncertainty, along with seasonal demands from work and life, can impact significantly upon mental health and wellbeing.
Five tips from the Transitioning Well psychologist team to help lessen seasonal stress:
- Journaling: There is increasing evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on our wellbeing. University of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events can help us come to terms with them acting as a stress management tool.
- Lists: Creating written lists for work and life helps to minimise the need to hold all this information in our already full minds – lessening the mental load.
- Back to basics: Taking care of our physical health at this time- continuing to eat well, exercise and prioritising sleep can never be underestimated.
- Priorities: With only 24 hours in a day, it is important that we take time to focus on what is most important. Being able to differentiate the urgent from important is also a great strategy with so many demands competing for our attention at this time.
- Identify and access support: Being able to reach out and ask for help when needed is important. Family and friends can offer informal support, however if feelings of anxiety, or an inability to cope continues, talk to your GP who can offer further guidance and support.
Three free resources to support our wellbeing at this busy time:
- Do an Online Wellbeing Check
- Download the Smiling Mind mindfulness app which offers short daily meditation and mindfulness exercises to practice
- Join the 10 Days of Happiness online coaching program which guides you through daily actions for happier living.